London Oratory vs Office of the Schools Adjudicator: High Court judgment leaves vast majority of adjudicator’s findings upheld

Last week, the High Court handed down a judgment in the long-running dispute between the London Oratory School in west London and the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA). The case was brought after the Oratory judicially reviewed an OSA decision finding that the school was selecting pupils on both ethnic and socio-economic grounds and ordering that its admissions policy be rewritten. Delivering a partial decision, Mr Justice Cobb stated that a full resolution could not be reached until further submissions had been sought. The British Humanist Association (BHA) was the objector in the case that prompted the OSA’s decision, and has been involved in the ongoing legal challenge.

In a damning report of the London Oratory’s admissions policy published last year, the OSA found a total of 105 breaches of the School Admissions Code, which all state schools are obliged to follow. However, in its judicial review the school chose to challenge the determination on only a handful of these grounds, leaving the vast majority of the breaches undisputed.

Despite comments from the school declaring a victory, analysis of the judgment carried out by the BHA reveals that in almost every case where the judge ruled in favour of the school, the victory was partial, temporary, and/or of no practical consequence. Crucially, the school also failed in the primary focus of its challenge, namely to overturn the decision that it can no longer include a ‘Catholic service criterion’ in its admissions policy, which had previously allowed it to give priority to children on the basis of activities such as flower arranging and choir singing. Mr Justice Cobb upheld the decision of the OSA in this regard and confirmed that this practice was not compliant with the code in a variety of different ways.

Responding to the judgment, BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson commented, ‘The Oratory still stands as having been found guilty of something like 99 breaches of the School Admissions Code. The evidence is clear, the school’s intake has consistently been found to be socio-economically skewed and Mr Justice Cobb did not refute the Adjudicator’s contention that a degree of social selection of school candidates was ‘inherent’ in the admissions criteria. It is amongst the ten most socio-economically selective state secondary schools in the country, taking just 6% of pupils eligible for school meals compared to 36% locally.

‘At any rate the school failed to achieve the main aim of its challenge, as the judgment clearly upholds the OSA’s decision that it must stop selecting pupils on the basis of activities such as flower arranging. It’s clear that nothing has really been resolved in the school’s favour with this judgment and some aspects depend on further submissions and clarification.’

Notes

For further information, please contact Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson on 07815 589 636

Read the full judgment: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/oratory_school-170415-final-2.pdf

Read the BHA’s detailed analysis of the judgment: http://humanistlife.org.uk/2015/04/20/what-did-the-ruling-in-the-london-oratory-case-actually-mean/

The BHA first complained about the school’s admissions policy in May 2013. In August 2013 the OSA issued a decision upholding the complaint and ruling against the school, but the school threatened to judicially review this, and in November the OSA found an inconsequential error in its report, leading to the decision being quashed. The new determination made in July 2014, which also looked at the school’s latest policy, again found against the school, and on a much more comprehensive basis than before.

However, in October the School applied to judicially review the decision on nine grounds, including the findings of socio-economic discrimination, of taking account of religious activities not permitted by the school’s Diocese, and of taking into account the religious practice of both parents instead of just one.

Since first submitting this complaint, the BHA has helped found the Fair Admissions Campaign. ‘The Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.’ http://fairadmissions.org.uk/

Read the BHA’s previous comment, ‘Landmark ruling: Schools Adjudicator finds London Oratory School admissions policy to be both racially and socio-economically discriminatory’, 15 July 2014: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/07/15/landmark-ruling-schools-adjudicator-finds-london-oratory-school-admissions-policy-racially-socio-economically-discriminatory/

Read the OSA’s decision from July 2014: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/ADA-2410-The-London-Oratory-School-LBHF-15-July-2014.doc

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.